The State Preservation Office does about-face for Kingstonian project amid political pressure

By Editorial Board

Rendering by Mackenzie Architects

Without any significant changes proposed by the developers, the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has chosen to unsee the adverse impacts that it had identified in September 2019 in the course of its review of the Kingstonian. The only rational explanation for this unexpected and illogical about-face is that this is the result of political pressure exerted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and by extension, Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

According to a February 14 letter to the ESDC from John Bonafide, Director of the Technical Division Bureau at SHPO, “After considering the material presented at our meeting and the subsequently submitted information, we have found that the evolution of the proposal has addressed many of the open preservation issues raised by this office.” However, the only change that has been made since his office last reviewed the project in September is that the Schwenk Drive portion of the development grew another story. Impacts that were identified in the agency’s September 19 letter, such as the project’s size, its monolithic scale, and its eradication of Fair Street Extension, have not been mitigated in the least. 

SHPO’s comments on the Kingstonian are part of a consultation mandated by Section 14.09 of the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law. It is required for projects that are funded, licensed or approved by state or federal agencies. The Kingstonian is set to receive $3 million in funding from the ESDC. The majority of the project site lies within the National Register-listed Stockade Historic District.

We do not know yet how this will impact the active Article 78 suit filed by a consortium of Uptown business entities against the City of Kingston and the developers. SHPO’s latest findings do not detract from the main premise of the lawsuit—that the Kingston Planning Board failed to take a “hard look” at the facts of the project during the State Environmental Quality Review. 

SHPO’s findings also do not negate the project’s pending review by the local Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, whose responsibility it will be to scrutinize the design details big and small, something that SHPO does not do in its review. 

As KingstonCitizens.org has reported in the past, the developers of the Kingstonian are the beneficiaries of substantial taxpayer-funded state grants. In addition to the $3 million from the ESDC, they have been awarded $3.8 million from Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant. They are also likely to seek an unknown sum of municipal tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA. In addition to all of that and perhaps of most value, they have a political leader like Mayor Steve Noble for a partner, who over the course of the past year, has seemingly gone out of his way to use the powers of his office to influence the outcome of the project’s regulatory review, whether by having his corporation counsels mislead and bully individuals, removing members of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission, or by seeing to it that the zoning law is disregarded. 

From the recent effort to merge departments and provide his spouse a new position with increased pay to creating positions for housing initiatives, this mayor’s determination to muscle through his agenda with or without the Common Council’s consent—and sometimes at the expense of others—is infuriating. The pressure on the Council to unquestionably support the Kingstonian is great. We hope they hold the line for our community. 

Note: For an excellent in-depth background on the developers of the Kingstonian and the origins of the project, listen to the August 16, 2019 episode of “The Source with Hillary Harvey” on RadioKingston.

The Need for Charter Reform Becomes Obvious and Urgent

Editorial Board

In a surprise February 3 press release, Mayor Steve Noble announced a major proposal to restructure the Departments of Public Works (DPW) and Parks & Recreation, which would greatly expand the current role of the Superintendent of DPW to oversee both departments. The Mayor’s proposal also creates a new Deputy position who would oversee several divisions, including parks maintenance, recreation programming, environmental education programs, along with sanitation. He even had a person ready to provisionally fill this new position immediately: his wife, Julie Noble, who is currently a city environmental education and sustainability coordinator.

Not surprisingly,  his proposal has not been received well. There have been cries of nepotism and ethics charges have been filed. Members of the Common Council, who had little or no warning of this proposal before it was announced to the public, have expressed unusual hesitation. However, there may be a silver lining in this mess.

READ: Kingstoncitizens.org’s “City Government is not a Mayor’s Oyster: The Restructuring of DPW, Parks & Recreation and Nepotism”

Kingston’s city charter in its current form gives the Mayor considerable power. He alone appoints all commissions and boards. He hires and fires officials, not all of whom have the credentials necessary for the particular role. The silver lining? His egregious heavy-handedness has a lot of people talking about the need for charter reform. The Mayor himself has supported charter reform in the past, and at the Common Council’s Laws & Rules Committee on February 19,  he admitted that the charter was outdated and expressed his desire to work in partnership with the Council to update it in a comprehensive manner.   

VIDEO of Laws and Rules Committee meeting on February 19, 2020. 

Why charter reform now?

According to the New York Department of State’s ‘Revising City Charters In New York State’ technical series, a city charter, …is the basic document that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures of the city government. It is comparable to the State Constitution and to the Constitution of the United States. The charter is, therefore, the most important single law of any city.”

Those who have followed KingstonCitizens.org know that for the last decade, reforming Kingston’s charter has been a major goal of ours.  That’s because in 1993, after many years of hard work by citizens with support from folks like the local Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters, there was a referendum to change Kingston’s form of government to a City Manager form.  It passed overwhelmingly. However, Kingston’s newly elected and popular Mayor, T.R. Gallo (who had also served briefly on the charter commission but stopped showing up some say in protest of the City Manager discussion) was unhappy with the new charter as it would diminish the powers of his office.  Swiftly, Gallo put together his own charter commission only a few months into the new charter’s passage. As Tom Benton describes it in his commentary “How Kingston got its ‘strong mayor’” in the Kingston Times, “As for the proposal itself, it was rather ingeniously constructed by taking the newly adopted charter and merely replacing the words “city manager” with “mayor” throughout. There were some other modifications, of course,  but that was the essence of it. And here was the effect: Under the adopted charter, the city manager was given very broad and powerful executive authority, the governmental check on that authority being control and supervision by the Common Council. Under the new proposal, an elected mayor would have the same broad authority, but would be entirely free from any such control or supervision by the council. Strong mayor, indeed!”   Kingston voters approved a “strong mayor” form of government by a narrow margin.  “…The city manager charter adopted a year earlier was consigned to history without ever having been tried and the era of the strong mayor was ushered in.”      This is the reason why—by design and by accident—Kingston’s executive branch has the power that it has without sufficient checks and balances.  

Charter reform introduced by Kingston Common Council in 2019.

As recently as  June 2019, Ward 9 Councilmember Andrea Shaut—who now serves as the Council President—introduced the subject of charter reform to the Laws & Rules Committee, which she then chaired. It was her desire that there be a collective effort to educate themselves and the community about the value of revising the charter to reflect the current needs of Kingston. 

While it was a welcome first step, her Council colleagues did not see a pressing need for action and the effort did not advance.  We are optimistic that its time has arrived.

READ: KingstonCitizens.org, “Education is Key. Common Council Takes Up Charter Revision Discussion”

Next steps

There are a host of reasons, all simple and sensible, why we have always thought that Kingston should return to a City Manager form of government.  Because it is unconstitutional to require that candidates for Mayor to have certain qualifications to hold the office beyond being a U.S. citizen and above a certain age,  our local government is led by individuals who learn on the job (hopefully) and who can restructure the administration to suit their agenda and biases. With a City Manager or administrator form of government, there are still officials popularly elected to represent the community.  The advantage of having a City Manager is that they have skills and experience specific to government administration. If they do well in their position, they can remain no matter who is elected. The same would be true for any department head.  

As practical-sounding as our opinion may be, it’s only one in a city of 24,000 people. To change the form of government is serious business. It has to be a community-based conversation guided by an unbiased facilitator. The product of this effort would be a revised charter for voters to adopt by referendum.  

We appreciate the Mayor and Council members’ support of charter reform. If they are at all serious about it, then we believe that the Mayor’s proposal to merge departments should be thrown out. An acting Superintendent of Parks & Recreation can be appointed and they can spend the next few months working with the Superintendent of the Department of Public Works to identify any tasks under Parks & Recreation that are better suited for DPW. Together, they can submit a list of recommendations to the Mayor for his consideration. 

It’s been 25 years since our city charter was last examined in a comprehensive manner. It is the responsibility of the community at large to insist that it happens. The time has never been more right.

City Government is not a Mayor’s Oyster: The Restructuring of DPW, Parks & Recreation and Nepotism.

By Rebecca Martin

On January 25th, Kevin Gilfeather announced his retirement as Superintendent of Kingston’s Parks & Recreation Department after 23 ½ years in the position.  Just six days later, Mayor Steve Noble, who for many years worked under Gilfeather as one of two environmental educators, submitted the following communication to the President of the Common Council with the hope of getting special business added to its February agenda. It read:

Dear President Shaut, 

With the impending retirement of Kevin Gilfeather, Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, I have been working with my staff to develop a long-term plan that supports the continued operations of our incredible parks and programming and identifies opportunities for improvement. As part of this process, I have been in discussion with not only the leadership of Parks and Recreation, but also of the Department of Public Works. While each Department serves critical and unique functions, I believe wholeheartedly that these departments can and should work closer together for the benefit of our community. By collaborating together, we have the opportunity to improve our system so that the services to our community and taxpayers are delivered in an economical, efficient and sustainable manner. I am respectfully requesting that this matter be referred to both the Finance and Laws and Rules Committees. I will be in attendance at both of these meetings to present my proposal and answer any questions the Council may have. Additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves.  

Mayors and citizens alike can submit communications, by letter or email, to the Common Council requesting that it take up a certain issue. From stop signs to Department requests, the Council President will assign the matter to whichever Council Committee she deems appropriate.  In Kingston, these communications are made publicly available as hyperlinks in the online agenda for the Council’s regular monthly meeting. This helps the public to anticipate forthcoming issues that may be taken up by the Common Council. 

In this case, the Mayor’s communication arrived without any detail as to what he had in mind, only the promise that “additional documents supporting this proposal will be sent under separate cover, prior to these meetings, so that the Council members may familiarize themselves” and a request to be added to both the Finance and Laws & Rules Committee agendas. 

Then, late in the afternoon of the following day,  the Mayor got more specific in a press release, announcing his plans to “integrate leadership teams” of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and Parks & Recreation Department by creating two new positions and expanding the role of the current Superintendent of DPW.  Serving as the new Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services would be his wife, Julie Noble, who would be “provisionally selected” until she sits for a New York State civil service examination. According to a recent news article,  Julie Noble’s new salary would rise by as much as $23,000. The Mayor’s plan also calls for the creation of a new Recreation Director position, which would be filled by his former Confidential Secretary.  (Please see clarification below)

The Mayor’s announcement occurred before the Council knew the details of his proposal. His press release was likely news to most of them, as it was to the public. 

The Mayor’s rush to accomplish his desired Department restructuring creates a messy situation for everyone. It might very well jeopardize a possibly sensible idea. Examining its merit is the responsibility of the Common Council, beginning with its Laws & Rules Committee and later, the Finance Committee. According to Kingston’s Charter, reorganizing Departments calls for a local law process.  

The most perplexing part of this whole thing is the Mayor’s intention to fill the new positions with a family member and a friend—the very definition of nepotism. The Deputy Superintendent of Environmental Services, a position intended for Julie Noble, would report to the Superintendent of Public Works, who serves at the pleasure of the Mayor without any protections in place for his own job. If he takes issue with the Mayor’s wife down the road, who is more likely to have the Mayor’s ear?  Needless to say, this structure creates a conflict of interest and could violate the City of Kingston’s ethics law (see 49-3 Standards of Conduct).

We reached out to Council President Shaut today to ask if the Council had received any more information outside of the posted agenda packet from last evening’s Council meeting on the Mayor’s proposal and whether or not the item would be sent to two Council Committees at once. 

“The Mayor has not submitted any more detail to the Council at this time. The Mayor did request the communication to be sent to both the Finance Committee and Laws & Rules Committee for February,”  wrote Shaut.  “Originally, I did assign it to both Committees for the month; however, after learning more about his request and the fact that it does need to be a local law process,  I have determined it would be inappropriate to discuss at Finance before it is vetted by Laws & Rules.”  

Shaut also included her response to the Mayor’s communication.  “After gathering more information on the specific process that will need to take place with the Council regarding your communication of a collaboration between DPW and Parks & Rec, I am taking off the communication to the Finance & Audit Committee for the month of February. According to our Charter, restructuring departments can only happen through a local law by the Common Council. The appropriate Committee to address your proposal first would be Laws & Rules. The Finance Committee’s decisions will happen only once, and if, the Local Law is shaped.”  

The Council President’s clarity in these communications helps to outline the proper process that should be followed. 

City government is not a Mayor’s oyster. It belongs to the public, and a good government has a strong system of checks and balances to protect the public interest.  In this case, the merging of Departments, the immediate creation and filling of new positions, and the reorganization of current DPW staff should be placed on hold until after the Common Council has had the opportunity to weigh the Mayor’s proposal and hear from the public.

Clarification:  Although the executive branch has not provided more detail about plans to restructure the DPW and Parks & Recreation, we have learned in the meantime that Lynsey Timbrouck who would be hired as the Director of Recreation took the civil service exam in 2018, prior to any knowledge of Gilfeather’s plans to retire. On the exam, she scored a 90, making her 2nd on the list.

Do you remember? 2007: Kingston Historic Stockade District placed on ‘Seven to Save’ list. What KingstonCitizens.org will be following in 2020

By Rebecca Martin

“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
George Bernard Shaw

With the Kingstonian project’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR)  behind us, KingstonCitizens.org is in the midst of creating a detailed timeline of the process  to be part of the public record. Doing so has taken us back nearly 20 years to the early 2000s when the Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) was created. While digging through the archives, we have come across items like the one below from 2007 when the Kingston Historic Stockade was nominated for and selected by the Preservation League of NYS as one of its “seven to save” preservation campaign.  

That successful effort was largely thanks to the late Avery Smith, then the chair of the Friends of Historic Kingston (FOHK) board, and others including Ed Ford, who led a coalition of partners who advocated for new construction “designed in a manner that would not detract from the unique aspects of the Stockade Historic District.”  The 12-story mixed-use building with a parking garage, proposed by the NJ-based Teicher Organization, has a lot of similarities to today’s Kingstonian project in size, location, and uses. Smith was also strongly opposed to the Kingstonian design as he believed the scale and architecture is incompatible with the Stockade. 

In addition to mapping the Kingstonian SEQR process, we are creating timelines for ten (10) other controversial campaigns that we were also deeply engaged on, including Niagara Bottling, Water Sales Referendum, Shooting Range/Gun Shop, GlidePath/Lincoln Park Grid Support Center. Each one will be collaborative so that members of the public can include  things we may have missed. 

LANDMARK STATUS:  LOCATED IN A NATIONAL REGISTER HISTORIC DISTRICT. 

THREAT: INAPPROPRIATE DEVELOPMENT

“A 12-story condominium project including parking garage and retail spaces is proposed for a site on the boundary of a National Register and local landmark district. The project is completely out of scale with the historic district which includes the Senate House State Historic Site, the first capital of New York State. Advocates are seeking a full environmental impact review, denial of height variances, and formal review role for the project by the local historic district commission. Friends of Historic Kingston, a Preservation Colleague group, joined other nominators to form the Citizens Concerned for Planning Kingston’s Future. The nominators are not opposed to development on the site and are advocating for a building designed in a manner that will not detract from the unique aspects of the Stockade Historic District.

Objectives: Advocates hope to implement the established review process to guide alteration of design for a more appropriately-scaled project.”

What KingstonCitizens.org will be following in 2020

These are our top three items to follow in the new year.

1. Kingstonian project’s discretionary decisions.  A project (or action) like the Kingstonian is subject to SEQR when any state or local agency has authority to issue a permit, license, or other type of approval for that action.  SEQR also applies if an agency funds or directly undertakes a project, or adopts a resource management plan, rule or policy that affects the environment. It’s only after the SEQR process is complete that involved agencies can move forward with their decision-making. On December 16, the Kingston Planning Board as Lead Agency of the Kingstonian SEQR process made a negative declaration. The developer will likely not waste any time seeking agency approvals.   

Key decisions include (please check the agendas attached from the City of Kingston for updates on discussion items or contact Elisa Tinti, City Clerk at (845) 334-3915 or email cityclerk@kingston-ny.gov):

Kingston City School Board of Education
Approvals:  Deviated PILOT review (rumored to be 25 years)
Next meeting: Wednesday, January 8 & 22 (details remain unclear)
Contact: James Shaugnessy, President at jshaughnessy@kingstoncityschools.org

Kingston Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) 
Approval: Preservation notice of action
Next meeting: Thursday, January 9 at 6:30pm  AGENDA
Note:  Currently, the date on the city’s HLPC agenda says January 2, but the meeting is confirmed to be January 9. 
Contact: Mark Grunblatt, Chair at grunblattesq@aol.com

Kingston Zoning Board of Appeals
Appeal: Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) Interpretation
Next meeting: The next meeting is not yet listed on the City of Kingston’s website, though it is typically meet on the second Thursday of the month at 6:00pm. Please contact the board chair for more details.
Contact: Tony Argulewicz, Chair at aaargulewicz@aol.com

Kingston Planning Board
Approvals: Site plan, special use permit, lot line revision
Next meeting: The meeting is not listed on the City of Kingston’s website yet, though they typically meet on the third Monday of the month at 6:00pm.
Contact: Kyla DeDea, City of Kingston Planning Office at (845) 334-3955 or email kdedea@kingston-ny.gov

Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee
Approvals: Closing of a city street (Fair St); sale of land or easement conveyance (parking garage): a deviated PILOT agreement (rumored to be 25 years); and zoning amendment (MUOD)
Next meeting: Wednesday, January 15 at 6:30pm
Contact: Ward 1 Alderman Jeffrey Ventura-Morell, Chair at ward1@kingston-ny.gov
Read:  Rezoning Request for Kingstonian Project Slated for January 15.

Ulster County Industrial Development Corporation (UCIDA)
Approval: Deviated PILOT agreement (rumored to be 25 years).
Next meeting: TBA
Contact: Rose Woodworth, Executive Director at 845/943-4600

2. City of Kingston Charter Reform In June of this year, Alderwoman Andrea Shaut who chaired the council’s Laws and Rules Committee in 2019, introduced city charter reform. According to the Department of State’s Division of Local Government Services ‘Revising City Charters in New York State’ it explains, “Why should cities undertake charter revision? There are several reasons, generally stemming from the fact that a charter affects everything the city government does. It provides the basis for most municipal regulatory functions and for the delivery of municipal services. An obsolete charter can be responsible for many municipal problems. lf it contains provisions which are unworkable under current conditions, municipal officials may have to make a difficult choice between being responsible for inferior service delivery or inviting legal challenge for deliberate, albeit well-meaning, deviation from the law. Until such provisions are eliminated, the most competent officials will be unable to carry out their responsibilities both efficiently and legally. Even though a charter may not be so obsolete as to present dilemmas of conscience, revision may well lay the basis for improved governmental operations. A good charter should provide a clear distribution of the powers of city government and clear descriptions of the duties and powers of municipal officials.”

Now, as president of the Common Council, Shaut will be in charge of appointing leadership and membership of all council committees, which includes Laws and Rules. We hope that she, and our council as a whole, will place this matter as a top item to set forth in the coming year (s).

3. City of Kingston Comprehensive Plan Zoning. In his 2018  “State of the City” speech, Mayor Steve Noble said that his “…administration will be focusing on overhauling our Zoning Code. …I will be launching the second stage of the zoning update and will be recruiting local volunteers to delve into such complex subjects as affordable housing, urban agriculture, parking and parking waivers, form-based codes and much more. This work is necessary in order to ensure that our zoning is consistent with our Comprehensive Plan, spurs responsible economic development and preserves our community’s high quality of life.” 

Later, in early 2019, he created a Comprehensive Plan Task Force. Over the summer months, the group drafted a “Request for Proposals” (RFP) for a professional planning consultant. The selection committee of the task force is now reviewing the handful of proposals that were submitted. They will make a recommendation to take to the Common Council in early 2020.

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2020 promises to be an intense year with a presidential election.  But it is at the local level where key decisions are made.  Going forward into the new year, we wish for you to remain engaged, inquisitive and fearless.

SIGN THE PETITION: Kingston Common Council must uphold its affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds

Kingstonian
View of the Kingstonian and its private swimming pool. Rendering by Mackenzie Architects.


Dear Members of the Kingston Common Council, 

We write regarding the zoning amendment request for the Kingstonian project. The Ulster County Planning Board has reviewed the proposed amendment and has determined that, as presented, it is inconsistent with the City’s zoning and Comprehensive Plan. If the amendment is to be adopted, the County has required changes, particularly the inclusion of affordable housing. We urge the Council to make the changes the County requires. Affordable housing is a critical need in Kingston, and there is no reason that a project receiving substantial public subsidies should escape the responsibility to supply affordable units.

Ulster County and the City of Kingston have an affordable housing crisis, with 55% of residents county-wide spending over 30% of their income on rent. When the City adopted the Mixed Use Overlay District in 2005, it called for 20% affordable units per project. Kingston’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2016, took the mission city-wide, calling for affordable units in all new residential developments throughout the city. Kingston is the only city in the Mid-Hudson region currently pursuing coverage under New York State’s new rent control laws to rein in its spiraling housing costs.

Applying the City’s affordable housing requirements to the proposed 131-unit Kingstonian project would bring much needed affordable units to Kingston families. In contrast, allowing construction of a luxury housing development with no affordable units would only worsen the housing crisis by further gentrifying Uptown and Kingston overall.

If the Common Council has determined that every developer in the city should provide affordable units at their own expense, then the heavily-subsidized Kingstonian project cannot be excused from providing the same.  

The Ulster County Planning Board warned in its letter that “it is disquieting that there is little disclosure of the public investment needed to bring the project to fruition.”  

The community is aware of at least $6.8 million in taxpayer-funded grants:

* $3.8 million from Governor Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI);

* $2 million has been granted by the Empire State Development Corp; 

* A $1 million Restore NY Grant.

Here’s what our community remains in the dark about:

* The value of tax breaks through the Ulster County IDA, which may excuse the developer from paying sales and mortgage taxes, as well as portions of its city, county and school taxes;

* The value of all municipal real estate that will be contributed to the project, including Fair Street Extension, which will be eliminated, and the city parking lot parcel on North Front Street;

* The municipal parking revenue that will be lost once the public lot is sold. 

* The cost of any infrastructure upgrades the City will undertake to accommodate the project. 

* Any other public grants, tax credits, or subsidies the Kingstonian is seeking.

Therefore, we make two requests of the Common Council:

1. Do not amend the zoning map without also making the changes to the text of the zoning that the County requires. In particular, clarify that new multi-family housing must include affordable units.

2. Step up to your fiduciary responsibilities and provide the community with a full accounting of the public subsidies expected by the Kingstonian project. Ensure that all decisions requiring Common Council approval, including discretionary approvals and funding awards, have been identified and included in the SEQRA review. 

We look forward to your response.

SIGN THE PETITION: Kingston Common Council must uphold its affordable housing mandate and provide constituents with a full accounting of Kingstonian public funds (via change.org)

KingstonCitizens.org Challenges Kingstonian Applicant’s Zoning Interpretation and Citizen Action of New York Submits FOIL Request to City of Kingston

City of Kingston Zoning Map. The boundaries of the Uptown MUOD mirror those of the Stockade Historic District shown in gray.

By Rebecca Martin

For months, many concerned citizens have asked the City of Kingston to provide its interpretation of the Mixed Use Overlay District—an overlay that adds a 20% affordable housing requirement to any adaptive reuse project with five or more residential units—as it relates to the Kingstonian project, a new construction that does not include affordable housing. This interpretation should have been provided to the applicant in writing prior to the start of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process.

Presumably, it should be easy enough for the City to upload this existing document to the Planning Office’s project page for the Kingstonian. If not, then the public can FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) it. If such a document does not exist, then the City ought to provide an explanation about how it assists applicants with complicated zoning interpretations.

On August 16th, in a letter oddly addressed to just three private citizens, the City of Kingston Corporation Counsel’s office outlined its process for the current Zoning Officer to issue a formal interpretation of the “relevant sections of the Code.” The letter states that any additional submissions or written arguments regarding the proper interpretation may be sent to the Zoning Enforcement Officer on or before the close of business on August 30th. 



Click on image to read the Corporation Council’s formal zoning interpretation process letter for the MUOD and the Kingstonian Project.

On August 28th, the attorney representing the Kingstonian applicant, Michael Moriello, submitted his written interpretation of the MUOD, concluding that “…there has been no waiver or violation of any zoning law 20% affordable housing requirement with respect to issuance of a Special Use Permit, as affordable housing guidelines do not apply to new construction within the Mixed Use Overlay District under the City of Kingston Zoning Law.”      


Click on image to read the Kingstonian applicant’s interpretation of the MUOD as it pertains to the Kingstonian Project.

On August 30th, the City forwarded that interpretation via email to the same three citizens with the instruction that “…written responses to the arguments submitted will be accepted for a period of one additional week.” That deadline is today, September 9th. 

So today, KingstonCitizens.org, assisted by attorney and counselor at law Emily B. Svenson, submitted a letter to the City of Kingston’s Zoning Officer rebutting the applicant’s attorney’s interpretation.  


Click on image to read KingstonCitizens.org and attorney Emily B. Svenson’s letter to the City of Kingston’s Zoning Officer rebutting the applicant’s attorney’s interpretation

What follows is a condensed version of our letter:

“KingstonCitizens.org is a non-partisan, grassroots, volunteer organization. Its purpose in commenting is to advocate for fair and proper application of the City’s zoning code, in accordance with the group’s ongoing advocacy for equitable housing, historic preservation, and environmental protection to benefit the Kingston community. Particularly for a project that is receiving significant public funding, it is vital to ensure that the project truly benefits the community.”

“In response to the applicant’s recent submittal, we respectfully ask that you expand your interpretation to determine whether the code authorizes new construction of residential uses at the proposed Kingstonian location. As this letter will show, it does not.”

“The applicant’s strenuous argument that the provisions of the MUOD do not apply to the Kingstonian raises an important question: Does the MUOD support the project at all?”

“The only authorization within the MUOD to establish a residential use is by converting an existing structure into apartments or live/work spaces. As the applicant agrees, that type of adaptive reuse would be subject to affordable housing requirements.”

“If the City of Kingston Common Council had intended for the MUOD to allow construction of new housing complexes, it would have written that into the overlay district. It did not. The Council was clearly attempting to facilitate the adaptive reuse of outdated buildings, while ensuring the resulting apartments would include affordable units. It defies logic to posit that the Council intended to simultaneously allow new construction of apartments without affordable units. Indeed, nothing in the code authorizes that use.”

“Because there is no authorization within the zoning code for new construction of housing at this location, we ask that you issue a determination that the project does not conform to the zoning code. The applicant would have multiple options to proceed, including pursuing a use variance or zoning change, or modifying the project to conform to the code.”

Citizen Action of New York submits FOIL to City of Kingston 

Meanwhile, on September 6th, Citizen Action of New York submitted a FOIL request to the City of Kingston for all communications between  the applicable City staff identified in the Kingstonian applicant’s Environmental Assessment Form and Addendum letter: 

“…copies of all records and documented communications, including written correspondence and emails between former City of Kingston Building and Safety Division Deputy Chief Tom Tiano, City of Kingston Fire Department Fire Chief Mark Brown, Kingston Planning Director Suzanne Cahill, City of Kingston assistant planner Kyla Haber and the Kingstonian applicant and development team from January 1, 2018 – May 1, 2019.”

Citizen Action also requested a 45-day extension of the review process for the Kingstonian applicant’s zoning amendment application in order to give the organization time to review the forthcoming information provided by the City. These communications may shed light on any discussions that the City had with the applicant regarding the interpretation of the zoning for the Kingstonian project site prior to the commencement of the project’s SEQR process.

Click on image to read Citizen Action of New York’s FOIL request to the City of Kingston and 45-day process extension.

What’s next?

On Wednesday September 11th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to discuss the studies and comments it has received in relation to the Kingstonian project’s potential environmental impact. While it is unlikely that the Board will issue its SEQR determination at this meeting, the discussion should shed some light on the viewpoints of the individual members.  

VIEW Facebook event

Decision Makers Need To Clarify Zoning Petition Time Frame and Request Written Record of Zoning Interpretation for Kingstonian Project.

PUBLIC REQUEST: Please request that the Kingston Common Council Laws and Rules Committee collect the official record from city staff (zoning officer, city planner and/or corporation council) to show – in writing – the city’s interpretation and application of the Stockade Mixed Use Overlay District (a zoning law created for adaptive reuse projects and affordable housing) to the Kingstonian Project (a new construction with market rate housing.)

By Rebecca Martin

Over the past many months upon discovering the Stockade Mixed Use Overlay District (MUOD) listed in the Kingstonian project’s application, we have asked how the overlay, created to encourage adaptive reuse to existing buildings for housing and including a percentage of affordable housing, could apply to a new construction without the affordable housing requirement.  The answer to that question has been virtually ignored by the City of Kingston so far. 

VIEW the original 2005 SEQR Findings Statement and Resolution that established the Stockade and Midtown Mixed Use Overlay district

Then, on June 4th, the Kingstonian development team delivered a zoning petition to the city requesting a zoning amendment to the MUOD to include a portion of the project property lot (about 0.313 acres, approximately 12% of the project) that was currently outside of the MUOD for inclusion.

Read more…

VIDEO: Special Kingstonian Meeting 6/3/19

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting is for the planning board to determine specific areas/studies which we believe will be critical for the decision making process with regard to the Kingstonian” – Wayne Platt, Chair of the Kingston Planning Board

At last night’s special Kingstonian meeting, the mood was oddly calm.  In about 1 1/2 hours, the planning board and applicant moved through their plans of what studies would be required in order for the board to make a determination of significance (pos or neg dec).  Outside of the planning board chair, only two members of the board posed any questions to the applicant, though they voted unanimously to pass a resolution for studies.  The applicant will provide its studies to the planning board for distribution in early July. A meeting will be scheduled for September for the planning board to make a determination or, to request more information from the applicant.

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Public Input with a Positive or Negative Declaration in SEQR

In this image taken from the SEQR Cookbook, the top line “POSITIVE DECLARATION” illustrates robust public input for a pos dec determination in SEQR with many steps and opportunities. The bottom line “NEGATIVE DECLARATION” illustrates a neg dec determination where the review process concludes and there is no further opportunity for the public to participate as it relates to environmental impacts.

By Rebecca Martin

A recent Kingston Times article reported a claim by a member of the Kingstonian development team: “Dennis Larios is a civil engineer with long experience in Kingston. He’s currently working with JM Development Group on the Kingstonian project. Earlier this month, in a Facebook post, Larios suggested that his clients would likely walk away from the project if the planning board issues a “positive declaration of environmental significance.”

A day later, the Daily Freeman reported that a second member of the Kingstonian development team suggested that a determination of significance (and likely a negative declaration) would not be made for a very long time, as they had not yet provided the lead agency with all of the necessary information.

Attorney Michael Moriello said in a statement, “It is beyond presumptuous for these opponents to attempt to subvert the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review process by insisting upon a positive declaration of environmental significance before any potentially large impacts have had an opportunity to be identified and mitigated….Because we intend to follow all environmental review requirements and as we have not yet provided all of the necessary information and studies, we do not anticipate a determination of significance under SEQRA for (a) fairly lengthy period of time….we are confident that we will ultimately obtain a negative declaration of environmental significance so that the vast majority of city residents, visitors and business owners will ultimately benefit from the environmental review and the Kingstonian’s attendant economic, cultural and employment benefits.”

When SEQR begins, a series of specific actions are to take place starting with a 30-day window for the involved agencies to approve or deny the request for lead agency.  An involved agency may also “state their interests and concerns regarding selection of lead agency and potential impacts of the overall action” (SEQR handbook, page 66, item #5).  That’s exactly what the Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission has done as a responsible involved agency along with three interested State agencies which submitted comments to the Kingston Planning Board within the 30-day window for lead agency selection or the 20-day window for determination of significance which I describe next.

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Kingston Common Council Letter to NYSDEC Environmental Justice Director Requesting Enchanced Participation Plan for Power Plant Proposal.

“On Tuesday, December 4, 2018, the City of Kingston’s Common Council unanimously passed a resolution to amplify Mayor Steve Noble’s request for the DEC to send a written notice to the applicant requesting that it immediately commence compliance with the requirements of the Department’s Environmental Justice Policy as specified in the Department’s March 20, 2018 comments on the Draft Scope. The City of Kingston, in which the PEJA area is located. specifically requests that the Department direct the Applicant to prepare and submit an enhanced participation plan for review and approval so that it can be implemented before the public comment on the DEIS is opened. In this way, the intent of the Commissioner’s Policy is honored, and Kingston’s identified environmental justice community will be provided with sufficient time, tools and the opportunity to clearly voice. and have their comments be considered, on the proposed Lincoln Park Grid Support Center.”

Fabian Marshall and the Kingston Police Commission.

 

CITIZEN CALL TO ACTION

  1. Request that the City of Kingston condemn police brutality in the City of Kingston.
  2. Request that the City of Kingston Police Department:
    • Provide a summary of changes that have been made to the City of Kingston Police policies and procedures since the Fabian Marshall incident in 2015;
    • Provide an action plan for continued improvements to the Department’s policies and procedure;
    • Provide an overview of trainings completed by Department personnel on an annual basis, as well as a  comprehensive description of the Department’s sensitivity training.
  3. As per Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley’s Petition  VIEW
    • Stop data by race and ethnicity, and use of force data including pepper spray and taser use;
    • Inform the public on the complaint process, including a detailed overview of the process beginning with the submission of a complaint form and through the Police Commission review, ruling, and if applicable, appeal;
    • Provide information on selection guidelines and term limits of Kingston Police Commission;
    • Release of information on the number of investigations into complaints against members of the department concerning domestic violence, excessive force, coercion, and verbal abuse, and the results;
    • Release of an immediate process to begin creating a community policing model that includes non-appointed members of the community as a civilian oversight board which would;
      • Conduct investigations into all cases in which a department member discharges his or her firearm, stun gun, or taser in a manner which potentially could strike an individual, even if no allegation of misconduct is made;
      • Systematically review reports and footage to conduct investigations into complaints against members of the department concerning domestic violence, excessive force, coercion, and verbal abuse, even if no allegation of misconduct is made;
      • To investigate the the conduct of members of the Department concerning any investigative category, (excessive force, sexual misconduct, a false arrest, or illegal search or seizure, and/or committed another civil rights violation or tort.) even in the absence of a civilian complaint, when, based on information and belief.

 

 

Tomorrow, the Kingston Police Commission will assemble for their monthly meeting to be held at 4:00 pm at Kingston City Hall at 420 Broadway in Kingston, council chambers (top floor). We are told that there will be a sign-up for citizens to speak at the beginning of the meeting, so please plan to arrive at 3:45 to do so and to secure a seat.  

As part of the agenda, the Police Commission will be reviewing a complaint filed by City of Kingston resident Fabian Marshall for discussion of an incident that occurred in 2015. 

According to the Daily Freeman VIEW, “Fabian Marshall, 27, was found guilty Friday of obstructing governmental administration, a misdemeanor, following a jury trial before City Judge Lawrence Ball. The trial began last Wednesday. The case against Marshall dates to September 2015, when members of the Kingston Police Department were responding to a report of an assault on Broadway, the District Attorney’s Office said in a press release. The release said officers tried to interview Marshall, who was in the same area of the reported assault and matched the description of the assailant, but that he refused to comply, became uncooperative and fought with police.”

The event was captured on a police cam and cellphone which was fortunately released for the public to review. (GRAPHIC)

“…officers tried to interview Marshall, who was in the same area of the reported assault and matched the description of the assailant, but that he refused to comply, became uncooperative and fought with police.”

Interviewed?

Being innocent of the alleged crime, Marshall seems uncertain as to why he was being approached by the police officer who acted in an aggressive manner without an explanation at the onset.

Uncooperative?

Marshall doesn’t appear to pose any danger to the officer carrying a gun and a taser.  In the video, it is alleged that he is tasered 21 times. One time, in this case, was too many.

A Helpful Guide to the City of Kingston 2017 Primary Elections.

 

The 2017 primary election will occur on Tuesday, September 12th. The polls are open from noon – 9:00 pm.

We know that primary elections can be confusing, and that’s why we created a guide intended to help City of Kingston residents successfully vote for their candidate tomorrow.  Please be in touch if you notice any errors or to make suggestions in the comment section.

The best of luck to all candidates.  Get out and vote Kingston citizens!

 

 

 

 

Can I vote in in the City of Kingston 2017 primary elections?
In a closed primary a registered voter may vote only in the election for the party with which that voter is affiliated. For example a voter registered as Democratic can vote only in the Democratic primary and a Republican can vote only in the Republican primary.

How can I find what district or ward I live in in the City of Kingston?
Please view the City of Kingston Ward map HERE

How can I find my polling place?
You can find your polling place  HERE

What does it mean if someone is listed on the ballot?
When a candidate’s name is listed on the ballot, it means that they are in an actual primary (such as in the Kingston Common Council race in Ward 8).  The other ward races are OTB primaries, where only endorsed candidates are listed.  The others must be written in.

What does “Opportunity to Ballot” mean? (OTB)
An “Opportunity to Ballot” (or write-in) means voters affiliated with the party that is on the ballot are free to write any individual’s name in. For instance, if you are a Republican and you have the option to write-in a candidate in your ward or district, you may do so instead of voting for the listed candidate.  An opportunity to ballot is the result of petitioning within an election district and if valid petitions are submitted with enough signatures, this opens the ballot for a write-in.

Where can I find information about the party’s in this year’s City of Kingston primary race?
In this year’s 2017 City of Kingston Primary races,  the following party’s are involved (in alphabetical order):

CONSERVATIVE
The Ulster County Conservative party can be found on FACEBOOK.

DEMOCRAT
The Ulster County Democrats can be found HERE.  The City of Kingston Democrats can be found HERE.

INDEPENDENCE
Not to be confused with the “Independent” party, the Ulster County Independence party can be found on FACEBOOK for more information.

REPUBLICAN
The Ulster County Republican party’s website can be found HERE.

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A More Democratic Approach to Public Meeting Discussions in the City of Kingston.

By Hillary Harvey
hillary@kingstoncitizens.org

The Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission (HLPC) recently chose to change its format to allow the public an opportunity to participate on applications in real time, creating a more democratic format for both the applicant and the public. The changes provide a model of a more participatory meeting format that all City of Kingston boards, committees and commissions  might consider applying.

Currently, in the City of Kingston, the majority of committees and subcommittees offer public speaking at the discretion of the committee chair.  It is possible to reach out to the chair ahead of a meeting to let him/her know that citizens would like time to present comments or questions.

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Clarity on process. 300 Flatbush Ave. (RUPCO’s Alms House Proposal)

 

By Rebecca Martin

For some time, there has been much furor over the sale of 300 Flatbush Ave. (aka RUPCO’s Alms House Proposal),  a property owned by Ulster County.

Lets cut to the chase on a few critical items.

– To be clear, the City of Kingston hasn’t any say as to who the county sells its property to.

– After being on the market for a little over a year, RUPCO made an offer at the listed price for a project they want to create in that location called ‘The Alms House” or “Landmarks Place”.  Their goal is for it to become  “66 units that would comprise of 14 studio and 20 one-bedroom apartments in the approximately 28,000-square-foot 1870s landmark building at the site and 32 one-bedroom units for people ages 55 and older in the new 42,000-square-foot building.”

– The proposal went in front of the Kingston Planning Board where they determined the project to have a negative declaration in SEQR. In other words, they found it to have no environmental impacts that would require further study.

As part of Kingston’s code, the Kingston Common Council had 90 days to determine a zoning change that started months ago, with a request for it to be changed from single family to multi-family use. Whether multi-family or commercial, a zoning change will have to be determined in order for it to be placed back into any real use.

– In this case, once a zone change is made, the project site plan can be reviewed by the Kingston Planning Board, and the public will have more opportunities to help to shape the project.

These are the facts, and this is the process.

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PARTICIPATE! Attend Regular Ulster County Legislature and City of Kingston Council Meetings.

By Rebecca Martin

How can we improve local government? By becoming more civic-minded rather than a single issue participant and attending regular, monthly meetings of both the Ulster County Legislature and City of Kingston Common Council.  That’s a potent and simple place to start.

To help you to get on your way, KingstonCitizens.org has put together a schedule of 2017  for both elected bodies.   “Many hands make light work” as they say. If each of us attended one or two meetings a year and shared what we witnessed – the landscape would look and feel very different.

Here are simple steps you can take to become a more engaged, local citizen.

  1. Sign up for the dates and times that are most convenient for your schedule (see below)
  2. Attend meetings. Make sure you check the calendar prior to attending, as all dates/times are subject to change (see below).  Make sure you add the dates to your personal calendar so you are reminded of your commitments.
  3. Write a one-page (or more) summation of your experience.  What happened that evening? How many citizens were present? Did you speak during public comment? What issues were discussed?  What significant decisions were made?  What did you learn and what outcome would you like to see on the issues that were discussed that evening?
  4. Submit your piece to KingstonCitizens.org:  rebecca@kingstoncitizens.org to be shared in our “Citizen Opinions” section (rules apply).
  5. We can help you to identify your council and legislative representatives and will encourage you to send a copy of your report directly to them as well.

 

Get Started. 

  1. Ulster County Legislature:  Dem/Rep Caucus and Regular Legislative Session
    1. VIEW:  Visit this link and choose dates and times that work for your schedule.
    2. VIEW:   Check the Ulster County Legislature Calendar a week prior to your meeting. Dates/times may be subject to change.  You can also access an agenda at the legislative site.
  2. Kingston Common Council: Caucus and Regular Meeting
    1. VIEW  Visit this link and choose dates and times that work for your schedule.
    2. VIEW: Check the City of Kingston municipal calendar a week prior to your meeting. Dates/times may be subject to change. You can also access an agenda at the City of Kingston website.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  Join us in becoming familiar with local government.